You might recall back in May some evil Russian hackers shut down the supply of gasoline to the southeastern portion of the United States. Suddenly gas was gone overnight like toilet paper. (Who knew that the flow was controlled by one spigot with an open wifi signal?) A lot of people wanted to know how this affected our travels in an RV that gets about 10 mpg. We got dozens of texts and Facebook messages asking some version of, “Are you ok?”
Unfortunately, we didn’t get those messages because we were in Great Smoky Mountain National Park where the views are unsullied by cell towers. Our non-responsiveness had a few family members concerned that we were trapped in the bottom of a ravine or hacked up and buried in a shallow grave by a museum tour guide. Or maybe we finally fell victim to that creepy ranger we met in the Smokies last year.
Alas, we were oblivious to the great gas panic of May 11-13. We emerged from the wilderness to a world that had to be warned by the Consumer Product Safety Commission NOT to pump gas into plastic grocery bags (use paper, it’s better for the environment). We learned all about the shortage on NPR as we pulled into Pigeon Forge which had plenty of gas at normal gas prices. It was a good thing because we were heading towards the Big Apple with a quick stop in Manassas, Virginia.
This brings me to the ultimate theme of our travels, which can summed up in six easy categories:
Bookstores, old houses, coffee shops, museums, battlefields and hikes
Where are the Kiles? The answer is probably one of those six places. Boy, do we love it when they turn an old house into a museum that has a bookstore, with a coffee shop and a hiking trail on the property.
In Manassas we found the swankiest government-run campground we’ve ever visited, with rich-people-rigs lined up like Beverly Hills mansions. (Fun watching a guy try and park his stretch Airstream trailer for 25 minutes.)
The First Battle of Bull Run was the first major battle of the war, pitting the hapless Confederates against the even more hapless Union Army. The smoke cleared leaving a pleasantly surprised rebel army and the future site of a campground with fine amenities including a waterpark and a shooting range. Amidst the war statues and memorials we found a group of re-enactors who had the honor of camping right on the battlefield where no one else can. Our kids were ready to enlist. We found impressive bear tracks on one of the hiking trails along the creek that gave the battle its name. COVID restrictions were being lifted and we enjoyed an outdoor concert where the suburbs of DC meet the farms of Virginia.
Next, we had an entire week to enjoy our favorite city, parking at one of my favorite places to drop anchor: Liberty Harbor Marina and RV Park. It’s just across the Hudson from Manhattan, with views of Lady Liberty and just 2 train stops from Greenwich Village.
We’re big fans of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and this time we took an outstanding neighborhood walking tour the museum created during COVID. The Tenement Museum might be the best thing in New York. I’d take a tour of a Chipotle if the Tenement Museum led it.
Now, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that in our dozens of visits to New York City, we’d never visited the famous, sprawling bookstore near NYU—The Strand. We finally made our way there on what happened to be on a gorgeous Saturday when Washington Square was teeming with NYU graduates in caps and gowns celebrating with their families. With the combination of amazing weather, proud students reveling in their accomplishments, and the city lifting some COVID precautions, it felt like everyone would break into song and dance like Lin Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights. (Did you know that flash mobs make Monica cry? It’s true.)
Bookstores and coffee shops.
Dads, you may never find yourself passing a trendy SOHO cafe and hear a hip young woman notice you. She examined me as she sipped her organic green chai latte and remarked, “Check out the family with their matching backpacks.” She was amused, but I could also hear the admiration in her voice. Yes! We have matching backpacks. Yes, it makes us look like a family from Kansas City that won a trip on a gameshow. But these Keen backpacks are also seats that make picnics and school in the park more comfortable. The ensemble isn’t really complete until you’re carrying an oversized American Girl Doll Store shopping bag. “Griswold, table for four. Gosh, I hope they serve mozzarella sticks.”
Speaking of Chipotle. Our son said he wanted to ‘touch the Empire State Building’ so I did him one better. I took him to the Chipotle in the Empire State Building. We had dinner ‘al fresco’ while the French horn section of the New York Philharmonic played in front of Macy’s. (At least it wasn’t Applebee’s in Times Square this time.)
Staying on the other side of the Hudson also exposed us to Jersey City and Hoboken which, to an outsider, might lack the name caché of Brooklyn or the Upper East Side, but are really nice family-friendly areas just minutes from Manhattan. I sort of hoped to find that apartments in Hoboken came at a more reasonable price, but they don’t, or I have no clue what “reasonable” means.
A local told us that Liberty State Park used to be a horribly polluted industrial dumping site, as shown in the photo from the National Archives. Today it’s an idyllic place to run, bike, and conduct essential homeschooling. The neighboring RV belonged to Mexican rap sensation El Jefe aka El Alfa. Regretfully, we were not introduced. The entire area has the look and feel of a movie set and we were the stars of our own Hallmark movie.
Up next: Headed down the turnpike for New England… sweet New England.
You’re enjoying the FOURTH summer trip of “Don’t Make Me Turn This Van Around.” This blog is written by Jonathan Kile, and approved by Monica Kile. In 2016, after series of major medical issues, Jon was diagnosed with a serious genetic condition called Vascular Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. With life completely altered, they developed a road-trip habit. Reach Jon at firstname.lastname@example.org. Monica is a non-profit consultant, grant writer, marathoner, baker, tour guide, and prolific bath taker. Also, don’t forget to follow our Instagram feed for stuff that doesn’t make the blog.